How My Daughter’s Sensory Bin Brings Me Joy

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I was a teacher for ten years, so when I decided to leave the classroom and stay home with my daughter, everyone assured me it would be a piece of cake. However, as far as I can remember, a piece of cake has never resulted in me crying in the corner of my kitchen floor…  (As much as I’d like to discuss my thoughts on the correlation between teachers and mothers, that seems like a post for another time.) 

I constantly felt like what I was doing wasn’t enough for her, and each time I tried to do an activity, it felt forced and almost ingenuine. While I did struggle to find my stride in stay-at-home motherhood, one thing that helped jumpstart my joy was my daughter’s sensory bin. According to WebMD (everyone’s favorite, am I right?), a sensory bin is “a shallow container that combines filler material and various small odds and ends,” and it is full of benefits for children of many ages. (Another Indianapolis Mom discusses sensory play here, too.)

At first, the thought of this was a little overwhelming for me. I would see Pinterest-esque sensory bins plastered all over Instagram and other social media platforms from blogger moms who seemed to have it all together. I could barely tread water with the everyday chores, meal planning, and toddler activities. It wasn’t until I found a way that worked for us that the ever-so-popular sensory bin became a staple in our household.

Actually, for a while, I thought I was using the term “sensory bin” incorrectly, but it didn’t matter. I found that minimally changing out the “filler” from our usual rice and dry beans helped keep the mental overload at bay while I could still hold my daughter’s interest in the activity. 

Now, her “rice box,” as she calls it, brings both of us so much joy that whatever we call it really doesn’t seem to matter.

Other than reducing the number and types of fillers that I change out each time, I do a couple of other things that seem to make the whole experience more positive for me. For starters, I usually have some kind of theme for the box. Who doesn’t love a theme? I love a good theme. In the past, I’ve done anything from holidays and seasons to other topics, such as dinosaurs or the Indianapolis 500 race.

I know this seems like a lot, but I promise I reuse themes and materials. I found joy in it, though, because I love to be creative. I constantly find myself brainstorming which theme I can do next or what theme would work best for what is currently going on in our lives. Whether an item that I want to include sparks an idea or a theme sparks a list of items I could include, the possibilities seem endless, and suddenly, I’m ready to reset the rice box!

That said, what I put into the sensory bin is just as important (and exciting) as the theme of the bin itself. As a self-proclaimed thrifter, I love looking for secondhand items I can find to use in each bin. While I sometimes buy items new for each theme, I find that secondhand items, or even items I can find around the house or on a local Facebook swap group, make for a more enriching experience for my daughter – because they are usually more random. I’ve used everything from cupcake toppers, cookie cutters, and shaped ice cube molds to leftover treat bag “goodies” and pom-pom balls to flower petals and pinecones. (Sometimes, I even make homemade items, like lightning bolts out of pipe-cleaners for a weather-themed box!) Again, I like being creative.

With each bin, I include a magnifying glass, a little cup of some sort, several different tools with which she can “dig,” and a pair of toddler-friendly tweezers (we use ours from a play veterinarian kit we had already). The most satisfying part of this whole ordeal for me is watching what my daughter does with it all. 

Sometimes, she makes a pretend ice cream shop, where she hands me a rice-filled cupcake liner with several items as “fillings.” I have also witnessed her pretend to be an archeologist, like we play at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum. Each time, though, it seems like she’s trying new things, and every time, I am in awe at how her play has grown and expanded since we started doing this activity a couple of years ago. (Plus, emptying the dishwasher in peace isn’t so bad, either.)

So, whether or not I am using the phrase “sensory bin” correctly, or whether or not I am using my teacher skills in this current position I fulfill, or whether or not I get a little *too* intense when it comes to picking a box theme… all seem irrelevant. Because, at the end of the day, it’s something that brings both my daughter and me joy, and I think that’s pretty neat.


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